Effects of Child Protective Custody Status and Health Risk Behaviors on Health Care Use Among Adolescents

Sarah J. Beal, Constance A. Mara, Katie Nause, Robert T. Ammerman, Rebecca Seltzer, Melissa Jonson-Reid, Mary V. Greiner

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Objective: To determine whether current protective custody status (ie, youth currently in the temporary or permanent custody of child protective services, eg, foster and kinship care) contributes to increased health care utilization compared to youth never in protective custody. Health characteristics (eg, mental health diagnoses) and behaviors (eg, substance use) were expected to account for differences in health care use among the two groups. Methods: Retrospective child welfare administrative data and linked electronic health records data were collected from a county's child welfare system and affiliated freestanding children's hospital between 2012 and 2017. Youth currently in protective custody (n = 2787) were identified and demographically matched to peers never in custody (n = 2787) who received health care from the same children's hospital. Health care use, health risk behaviors, and social, demographic, and diagnostic data were extracted and compared for both cohorts. Results: In baseline models, health care use was higher for youth in protective custody compared to peers. In adjusted models that included health risk behaviors and patient characteristics, protective custody status was associated with decreased primary and missed care, and no longer a significant predictor of other types of health care use. Conclusions: Youth had significantly higher utilization while in protective custody than their demographically similar peers; however, health risk behaviors appear to account for most group differences. Identification of current custody status in pediatric settings and addressing health risk behaviors in this population may be important for health care systems interested in altering health care use and/or cost for this population.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)387-395
Number of pages9
JournalAcademic pediatrics
Issue number3
StatePublished - Apr 2022


  • child welfare
  • foster care
  • health care utilization
  • health risk

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pediatrics, Perinatology, and Child Health


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